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Book TV After Words

Michael Austin Education. (2013) 'That's Not What They Meant! Reclaiming the Founding Fathers from America's Right Wing.'

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America 12, John Adams 8, Glenn Beck 7, Washington 7, Hamilton 6, Virginia 6, Thomas Jefferson 4, Jefferson 4, France 4, Us 4, Patrick Henry 3, Benjamin Franklin 3, United States 2, Texas 2, David Barton 2, Vito 1, Luther Martin 1, John Milton 1, Bunyan 1, Chuck Morris 1,
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  CSPAN    Book TV After Words    Michael Austin  Education.  (2013) 'That's Not What They  
   Meant! Reclaiming the Founding Fathers from America's Right...  

    January 13, 2013
    9:00 - 10:00pm EST  

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analyzes the dozens of speeches, books and articles by
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conservative commentators to expose what he calls the deep historical files in their use of america's founding history. it's about an hour. welcome to "after words." >> guest: thank you very much. >> host: we're here to talk about your book that's not what they meant reclaiming the founding fathers from america's right-wing. how have they claimed the founding fathers? >> guest: i think the founding fathers are probably one of the in america and we all claim them for a lot of different points. in the current historical moment the right wing has done two things, and i found a little bit disturbing fourth. they found a single entity, the sort of high of mind founding father candidates attributed a whole lot of things one or two
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people during the founding generation believed during this collective mind and used it to further shutdown the debate to try to say this is what our founders believe, certain opinions are illegitimate and cannot be entertained and have used that founding mess, and i think it is a little predictable that people are going to use whatever is rhetorically powerful to ground their arguments, the but i think that that collectivization of the mind of america's founding fathers is particularly dangerous because as i see so often in the book they were not coming and presenting them as such tends to dramatically oversimplify the politics of the founding generation, and then it comes to be used as a big pattering ground to beat people over the head with in ways that
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i think our book is rhetorically on sound. >> who in america's right-wing are we talking about? >> guest: i started off with glenn beck and i was determined i was going to read this book about 15 minutes after i ran into glenn beck's translation of the federalist papers, the original argument. and there was an hour supermarkets become our kroger's here in wichita. i said to people can you believe this? glenn beck has translated the federalist papers, and almost everybody said what's wrong with that? and i said there english, they don't need to be translated. and people didn't understand why i was so upset about this and it kind of ticked me off, so that was the first book i read is the glenn beck's translation of 33 come of 34 of the federalist
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papers with a lot of commentary. >> host: >> guest: and also the recent biography of george washington and his half reproduction, have commentary on thomas kane's common sense. that is how i started the project is reading those books. sean hannity, david barton, i don't know if you are familiar with david barton, the jefferson lies, that is his most recent book and a variety of similar works. and then there were a number of works by politicians that i read, and this is always dangerous because politicians usually don't write their own books, but i figure they ought to at least be willing to agree with what is in them, so i read several recent books by new gingrich and there's a book
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called fed up that is a manifesto, some of the politicians on the right and that entertainment complex could be the foundation. that would be 30 or 40 books glenn beck, that a wide swath of opinion. >> host: would you expect anything more from the propaganda? in other words is this what we might expect when it is as complicated as over 200 years ago is written about and talked about the people that are up for reelection and trying to sell books is this just an inevitable outgrowth of the culture that talks about issues in this way? >> guest: to a large extent, yes and if you look historically at the discourse, it hasn't changed much over the last 200 years. this kind of very propaganda history. even while the history was being
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made, people were very propagandistic about -- people were free propagandistic before they were dead, and what they meant. so, yes. i do think that's part of the genre, and it needs to be people like me and saying if this is where you are getting your history it's wrong or if it's not wrong it's at least much more complicated than it is being made out to be. >> host: let's talk about this point of it being more complicated. let's say they had good copyeditors that set of the founders they said many of the founders said something or most of the founders or it was a common opinion at that time and that simple kind of change of freezing enough to satisfy you or is there a deep concern? >> guest: that would totally eliminate the huge devotee of what i call the founders sign
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monster. >> host: that is a wonderful metaphor. >> guest: when i first decided to do this i decided that would be enough, so the founders started a blog that was my first attempt to use photoshop, took a picture of george washington and benjamin franklin and john adams and stuck them all together and that was the founder, the great collective founding fathers opinion and the rhetorical effectiveness depends on unanimity of opinion. if using some founders believe this and some founders believe why and hear barack obama is talking about why and not x, that isn't the stick. that's saying somebody is entering a long historical conversation. when you see the founding fathers believed x and barack obama believes why it, that becomes the stick. so i think that at a very
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fundamental level, kind of discourse that i am responding to can't draw that distinction between the founders believe and most founders believed or many founders or some founders believed because of that historical the incoherent unity of opinion as fundamental to the way the discourse is being used. >> host: is there any hope for propaganda as you described them to have a meaningful constructive conversation about the founding father? >> guest: that is at odds with what most are talking to. >> host: let me ask about the founding fathers apart from what they have said about them. this is a special group of people and maybe they've been treated wrong by the people to talk about in your book but if this is a group of people were the evin ellen 20 talf. >> guest: i do think so. i think these are very remarkable people who care deeply about their country and cared deeply about ideas.
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they were also a full and very often controversial group of people that in their own ways they cared deeply about the country that they were creating and what they were doing. and i think they have a lot of wisdom. i don't think more than anybody else has ever lived. they have been an historical periods in american and other places a lot of very wise people that we ought to pay attention to but i do think that the founding fathers individually were people who were coming yes, fought a lot about what it meant to live in a representative democracy at the time in the world very few people have given a lot of thought to that. >> guest: >> host: we take for granted what a remarkable moment that time was. i mean, there was no stable democracy in world history before that. there were cities and states
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that didn't last, but this is a democracy that was created as a constitution the was voted on across the country. without people being murdered for what they voted on the constitution and it's still here last. so, what is it about them that was so special? one were you use a lot in the book is compromise. so tell me about their ability to compromise. >> guest: well, i think that you can't build a representative dhaka see across a very large population and a very large land area without compromising a lot. and i think that in our present this course, we'd like to pretend that the constitution and a lot of the nation-building enterprises in the founding era were done by consensus, people getting together on a grand which think is absolutely nowhere near the truth. you have people who wanted to accomplish something remarkable. the creation of the constitution
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was something absolutely remarkable for its time. the creation of a representative democracy across 13 large land areas that have different economies, different modes of production, very different religious values and different histories, a very different outlook on things. when they came together, i think that the 55 people who gathered in philadelphia had most of them, not all of them, most of them had an imperative that they were going to create something like a representative democracy or republic of all of these different elements, and they have almost everything but that and they can with a whole lot of different ideas about what they were going to do. and nobody came away with exactly what they wanted. most people didn't come away with anything close to what they wanted except that a very remarkable thing.
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>> host: these are very polarized times. the congress and the 79 piece is as polarized as today in your book if we think the media is polarized or in tents today and we haven't seen anything with compared to then. so how were they able to compromise than in the similarly polarized times it is hard to compromise that. >> guest: they didn't like it any better than we like it, and they got as mad. somebody said, and i've never been able to track this down, maybe you know who said it, politics has compromised everything else is fear. and i think we are looking at a lot of fear right now. but i think that the compromises are going to happen, too. host koza what do we do to sort of create the environment now that promotes compromise? is it possible -- is it just something that happens when a nation is creative and not any nation as continued? >> guest: there have been a lot of times in history. i think the constitution is a very good -- i call it in the book an engine of compromise
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that propels us towards compromise and one of the ways it does it is it is used to shut the whole thing down, but it's for any government a couple of people in congress can do it, a few people on the supreme court can do it. it's much easier to keep things from happening than to let things happen. what drives compromise is the need to do something, the need to move forward to get we are always going to have a lot of political theater, and i love that. i come at this with an anguish major with a background in theater. i love the theatrical elements of our politics. i think it's fascinating. it's a dramatic, its common and tragic. it's just a wonderful bit of literature. in the and the founding generation had a country to create. they were willing to give up
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almost everything but that. we've got problems to solve, and i wrote in the book and believe right now the national debt is probably our generation's problem to solve, and it's a big problem and it's one where there are a whole lot of different values on the line, different interests on the line. i believe we would compromise on that because we have to. because the alternative is just grinding to a halt. but there's always -- every compromise in the convention come every compromise of the founding generation was certainly attended by its fair share of very over dramatic theater, and it's no different today. >> host: we talked about some of the success comes some of the historically unprecedented things the founders did but there were also many things about the ways that they could that don't look so good from where we sit today. this was 55 aristocratic man
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come of varied backgrounds. so given the flaw how the constitution was created, do the lessons still translate to today? >> guest: i think they do. we have to be very sensitive about that and have to realize this was a great leap forward. it wasn't beyond where we are now. it was a leap forward where most of the world was to them and allowing a much larger percentage of the population to be involved in the political process than had been involved almost anywhere in the world after that point. from our perspective, it might not even look like much of a leap from our perspective a whole lot of people were excluded, and much of the last to hundred 30 years has been working out the idealism of the american revolution in a way that brings the participation and the political process far
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past where the founders imagined it. >> host: given how different things are today, too, how we go along as writers and political figures come as judges and professors, how do we go about translating the principles of the 18th-century for the world of the 21st century? the talk about free speech we of the internet, they talk about the salvation of power, we have the administrative state. so you talk about this as an ongoing process, but given how different the world is today, how do we translate the wonderful historical unprecedented as you say in sight of the 18th-century to a different world of the 21st century? >> guest: it's not easy. that is a difficult task and i think one of the things i object to with so much of the propaganda that i was responding to was that it made it sound very easy and what we need to do is this, we need to go back to what the founders intended, which is just problematic on a whole lot of different levels.
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i think that we will make a lot of mistakes if we try to go back to the constitution and read the mind of the people that wrote it because i don't believe they sat down intending to create a checklist of things that we need to do. i think that they created a political process that is still a very dynamic political process and when i have lectured about the but i sort of announced up front what the founding fathers would think about this. unless the question is should the 13 colonies be governed by the british then the only answer is use the process we gave you and figure it out for yourself. >> host: let's get more specific about the ways in which calfee is kind of propagandist and political figures are talking about this issue triet let's go through some of the
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issues you talk about in the book. let's first talk about religion. what was the vision of religion in the american constitutional order that was discussed at the time of the founding and how is it then according to your account simplified in these by the right-wing? >> guest: it depends on who you ask. there were founding fathers that were very religious and founding fathers who believed that this was going to be a christian nation, that we needed the inspiration of god and the bible, politics. i think patrick henry is a good example of a very religious founding father, and that was one of the positions of the founding era. there were founding fathers who were not christian, so they were unitarians. there were some who weren't unitarians to believe that religion was a sort of good way to control the masses. it was a nice -- they didn't particularly care much, they thought that it was nice.
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perhaps george washington and john adams fall into that category that they expressed a lot of religious doubt but didn't really try to slow it down, and then there's jefferson and madison who went through a very lengthy debate in virginia about the religious freedom act of virginia and who really saw jefferson was a day story unitarian and wouldn't have been considered a christian, madison i had no idea because i know what he thought about religious liberties. i have no idea what he felt personally but both of them believed that religion was best for religion and the best for the civil society if religion were considered something prior to the social contract and therefore not covered by the social contract. you entered into your religious beliefs as you understood him or her to be coming and the state
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neither helped or hindered, and i think that view is more in line with how the constitution in the upcoming and i think that the supreme court has been moving us to words that view that by no means of a straight line. >> host: this is a good example of the problems you're talking about before in finding collective intentions. so you outlined what they thought and many of them seemed completely in disagreement with what others said. so how do we find the common ground when it comes to religion? collective bodies always have conflicting intentions, the very different people voted for different reasons, but there is still law that comes out and gets the majority. so it is a very complicated picture and interesting one that you are painting of religion and the founding fathers. but how do we go about finding with the common ground is that led them to agree on this first amendment treaty?
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>> guest: you look at the debate surrounding it and the virginia debate and what people said, but those really aren't, they don't governor interpretation. the constitution isn't the virginia statute on religious freedom or the massachusetts constitution. it is its own thing and this is very little about religion. what it does say in the first amendment you have enormous bodies of literature on the free exercise clause and on the establishment clause. but i think that there is good reason to read that part of the constitution, that part of the amendment in light of the jeffersonian, and addisonian position that religion is sort of exempt, madison says xm from
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the cognizance that there is a sort of non-cognizance of religion which is completely consistent with the free-market principles, religion circulates in the free-market of ideas. government does not interfere with it or anything to establish it, and i think that pretty much drawing those lines reasonably successfully, though there are a lot of people to believe otherwise as there were in the funding generation's patrick henry vehemently opposed the jeffersonian addisonian position on religious liberty. but it did prevail in virginia. i would argue that it prevailed in the first amendment, and that it has led to america being very religiously dynamic country. >> host: now what is a good extent of the founders phenomena? how have the right wing authors and political figures that you talk about in your book, how
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have the treated with the founding fathers had to say about religion, what do the things they said and what does that mean for the debates today? >> guest: david wrote a book called the original intent, which is about a 500 page collection of citations -- >> host: tell us what those are for the long literary scholars. >> guest: that comes from biblical interpretation largely to meet our contextualized paragraphs or sentences that supposedly prove something or almost always given without context. some people say that thomas jefferson was a bs but here is the quotation from thomas jefferson in which he talks about jesus christ, thus as we see this is true and what people say is a lie, and the founders wrote an enormous amount. george washington's the five papers in the university of virginia are now in volume 67 of the projected 90 volumes and he
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wasn't even one of the writers. alexander hamilton, james madison, thomas jefferson spent hours every day writing letters. so, we have just rooms full of writings from these people and if you just cherry pick a citation here and there, you can prove they were christians were deists or baked potatoes. you can prove they were just about anything because they said so much. soa proof text citation is just a quotation offered with very little context, and in biblical discussions, pretexts' are used to prove what god is thinking. in our discussions of the founders once we collectivize the founders, once you create the founders, then you can apply any sentence ever spoke as if it were the opinion of the entire
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collective, and that is what has happened and that is what a lot of people today do and they are making an enormous amount of money doing it and they take the original intent as the one that i focus on the most and in that but you have thousands of quotations by hundreds of people listed as founding fathers about half of whom were not supported in the constitution. and you have samuel adams and john hancock and patrick henry and george mason, people who are antifederalist leaders who were then taken to be something as a collective mentality who most of them didn't support. >> host: and what is the founder have to say about religion? what are these used to argue in the contemporary debate about the government and religion? >> guest: they say on the right that of course the founding fathers were christian.
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they didn't want a particular denomination to be the controlling region to the religion of the united states this certainly demand for a very evangelical biblical world in our politics and they find plenty of evidence to prove it. the founder on the left says the law of the founding fathers were like thinkers and fought that religion had no place in our society, and that is just inaccurate. those are competing founders, competing collectivization of the founding generation coming and they are equally inaccurate i think. >> host: let's talk about taxes. published in 2012 that talks about a grover norquist and james madison. so, how and when it comes to the issue of texas or taxes with
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representation. they revolted a few times and our shays' rebellion, the whiskey rebellion, there were -- there was quite a bit of anti-tax sentiment in america. that said, the constitution is virtually unlimited in the taxing power that it gives to the government, and hamilton road 30 through 35 about the need to collect taxes and there are a number of places that says i think very straightforward that doesn't make it into the glenn beck version that says it is politically difficult to raise taxes and that is all this could be politically difficult.
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q. do not ever want to do anything to add a structural difficulty by putting something in the constitution to limit the ability to raise taxes because you cannot receive the future that it is dramatically irresponsible to do something like i don't know to get pledge and you'll never in your life as a legislator vote to increase taxes, but that is dramatically diametrically opposed to what hamilton wrote in the federalist papers. among the founding generation jefferson was your greatest example of the low tax doesn't want to raise taxes proud, and he was only very tentatively supportive of the whiskey tax, the distilled spirits tax and the jefferson must i think
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largely sympathetic protester and jefferson city lot of things that modern-day tax protestors can see is. jefferson was an out liar. washington didn't support the whiskey rebellion. he actively participated in the military effort to put it down. hamilton believed -- and on this i very much agree with hamilton it's always going to be a big debate and you need to have that debate but you do not hobbled yourself before hand with a additional structural difficulties to have a source of revenue. >> host: we will take over half way break now and when we come back we want to talk about specific issues in the book and then we will talk about the politics behind it, and then the reasons that led you to write the book. we will be back in a little bit.
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>> guest: excellent. thank you. >> host: welcome back, michael. let's talk about some of the issues your book talks about and what the founders had to say in different opinions on these issues and then with the right-wing commentators are talking about? we talked already about religion and taxes. let's talk about foreign policy. so, what did the founders that you talk about in the book have to say about america's role in the world? >> guest: i think that again this is a matter of great dispute. there was one major foreign policy issue than the discussion and that was the war between france and england and what they were going to do about it, and
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even then you had to very distinctive physicians. hamilton was pro-british and jefferson was pro french. and this is what led to huge split between those and this is how part of the federalist and the republicans were put with all sorts of other things i think that the hamiltonian position that washington accepted was america ought to be neutral had no navy didn't have any viet the time, had a strong interest in trade with both india and france with just basic body of delhi and self-interest that should remain neutral. neutrality favored the british
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because there is no american support for the british but a lot of americans wanted to go out and be privateers for france because there is a lot of trade going through. so, jefferson pushed hard, and i think probably too hard. you have conversations with the french ambassador that should never have had pushed hard to have america moderately pro french to allow americans or to allow their friends to outfit the american ships and let them participate in some ways in the effort. jefferson did this largely because he thought that we owed france for their help in our evolution because the french were fighting for democracy and for aristocracy. the two positions, kind of the realistic position of these are
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america's interests, this is what is made to do it the position of the jeffersonian which is we need to fight for values in the road, and as american foreign policy has developed, those positions have both been predominant over different times which is what most states do most of the time, there's always been this element of we have to go out and make the world safe for democracy and we have to fight with the good guys. i think our situation is completely different. we have money, we have an economy he. we are in a very different situation than the founders ever were or could have imagined. but we still have those inclination's are we involved in foreign policy to protect our interests, are we involved in foreign policy to project in the
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world? >> host: it is a different time in america's place in the world. the nations are very much a threat, 25 years after the person in the white house this is a country very much at risk. how do the people that you write about half contemporary offers, how did that translate the frankenstein of the founding to the debate about foreign policy and in afghanistan? >> guest: a lot of them quote washington's farewell that you shouldn't be involved on the alliance's. there tends to be a very nativist going out through the books. >> host: what do you mean by nativist? >> guest: let the world flight
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and pull back and take care of ourselves. i do not sense among the contemporary conservatives i do not get a sense of foreign policy coherence than i do on the domestic issues. some of them are prone intervention, we need to go exploit our democracy. a lot of them are much more we need to just pull back and get out of the war and take care of ourselves and stop spending money on the world. >> host: so they want to see them as the most in the past few years as the states' rights, what we might call federalism, the federal government, the state governments, but a lot on sunday morning talk shows and supreme court decisions and the health care case so what did the founders have to say about the relative roles of the federal
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government and the state government? >> guest: everything we had to say about it. they were just as messed up and conflict as we were but this is the major, the major issue and 1800 e. election and in the 1828 election that was under jackson versus john quincy adams. this question of our weak one nation or a bunch of states? this is what decided the federalist and antifederalist and supporting the constitution and the republicans in the founding and one united the whigs in to the democrats in the next generation. we have always had some people who see the united states primarily as a group of states in contact with each other and who see it as a union and the idea that the founders had a coherent position about state
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rights and all of them were killed the same thing i think requires you to pretend that they didn't have elections back then because that is what their actions were about. >> host: different parties wanted different things. i think that generally the southerners or more confederate. they saw this more of a compact states, the northerners i think or more as a nation. hamilton very much. hamilton was all still monarchist. hamilton solve this very much as a union. i think there was little of the conditions there was a strong belief and when i read that texas is trying to secede from the union because they are mad about some recent political event, that strikes me as prolifically tragic and a comical sort of way because the founding generation -- there were a lot of unionists but they
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were not supporters of the constitution. >> host: so what do they have to say? what is their collectivized version of what the founding fathers had to say about federalism? >> guest: federalism is hard to define because it shifted throughout the generation. demint supporter of the articles of confederation and the madison and hamilton poured on of the fast ones of all times by calling their nationalist work on the constitution the federalist papers so what we mean by federalism is a word that signifies some relationship between constituent elements and a national government with that relationship is is not anywhere clear on the founding generation. i think rick perry and mark levin and glenn back and almost everybody in that general cadre believes the founding fathers believed that states were more
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eminem will and that they were likely on the state's which is exactly the opposite of what madison believed at least in the federalist attempts where he said it's the state's that have the real potential to produce a majoritarian term and it's the national government that counteract that because of its size because it is large enough to balance the various regional maturities that could become oppressive. >> host: you should be waiting by your call for a call from guinn beckham think after our discussion this certainly there is no issue that has received more attention from this group tuthill it hit what purports federalism and separation of powers you mentioned the hour concepts in the world, there are several specific situations but
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very general concept. i want to turn now to are the founding fathers, why now and why they are right wing. this is a very kind of puzzling topic for me. you mentioned in the book that warren harding gave a speech in 1816. republicans don't use it as a major basis of attack or against the new deal or in the 1950's with john marshall harlan nominating the supreme court in 1855 and the study showing that he's asked about a visual was some and the founding fathers three times and they were asked to think 50 times more. the president and vice president in the constitutional law they don't talk about the founding fathers. as much as this group does. so why the contemporary conservatives grab on to this as such a basis for political and
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legal argument. why this and why now? >> guest: i think because of its rhetorical power. it's going to be invoked for their religion. i think that a lot of people don't have a good understanding of the founding generation. i've discovered this the hard way when i was writing the book i asked my son if you could name to founding fathers and he told me it would be benjamin franklin and chuck morris. [laughter] >> host: don't tell his history teacher. >> guest: so we have i think a high level of misunderstanding which makes it very easy to manipulate. but everyone and a case that they were good people. every become a pretty much of a devotee, the vast majority of americans want to be in line with the founders and don't quite know what it means to be in line with the founders and so they are very susceptible to
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somebody coming out and telling them in a plane and easy to understand words what it meant what turns out to be with people were saying for the founders to mean. >> host: but right the white wing? leah said he stumping for the health care law and at every election campaign saying james madison, all these people would have wanted the health care law they would have wanted the financial reform but why glenn beck and al sharpton? >> guest: that is a good question, there is as much in the writings of the founding fathers to support what contemporary liberals believe. both groups could draw equally from the founders. i think liberals have tended to downplay the importance of the founding generation largely because of its connection to slavery and its connection to white male privilege and i think that has made it harder for liberals and some of the court's liberal constituencies to invoke
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these aristocratic white men as what kenneth burke would call god terms and the contemporary liberal is a little bit less desiring and appealing than the conservative doctrine right now. >> host: do you think part of this is a more religious nature of political arguments and political constituencies? >> guest: i think most of the people that are adopting this attitude towards the founders are completing that with their religious belief and it comes out there are these ultimate authorities of god and the founders and they occupy a very similar rhetorical position in the right wing discourse.
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i try to talk about the difference between the conservative element which i think is a very restrictive philosophy and one that i agree with in many ways and places so i don't want all to think it is a subset right now of the far-right that calls itself a constitutionalist movement that sees great rhetorical power in the constitution, and quite frankly some of the founders felt exactly the way they do and some of them didn't. >> host: one version of conservative might be birkie in conservative preferences and i want to come back to this difference what you call french conservatives and nurturing conservatives but want to talk a little bit more about this interplay between the kind of religious arguments and constitutional arguments since you have kind of written in the
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book religious and biblical type arguments. what similarities do you see beyond just references to an ultimate authority between the direction of evangelical christianity, and perhaps the sort of arguments that you are referencing in your book. >> guest: this takes me at to my actual academic training. i spent most of my career writing about the four people, milton and bunyan especially was a great one for making religious arguments coming in his way of doing it and i think this is very common in our culture today. he took the bible and divided it with 41,000 prove texts and combined them any way that he felt like and paid no attention to the context whatsoever and said here is first corinthians and this over here from proverbs and here is something from leviticus and they put them
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together to form a chain of arguments you can get about where you want to go. and i think that that is largely what the people and writing about have done with the much more voluminous writings of the founding fathers that just reduced it to so many pretexts and they've been able to combine those in a variety of ways and it's similar to it in that the bible does not have a single author it has a number of authors, but a single mind is assumed. all at least been approved by god and sell whichever first you take from whatever source has the ultimate intent, that sort of homogenous intent in a lot of people's minds. and i think the exact same thing has happened with the founders. >> host: and as you said, just by using the phrase prove text and the situation that we were talking about a tax we were talking about an event time ago a certain reverence a long time
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ago one whose text is authoritative because a higher power giving it but still kind of the written word that comes out >> guest: and one where text is considered more important than context. i think that many people today would be concerned with what kernan thee uh maza or fly levity yes was doing in happening in deuteronomy because the text is important with a lot of the case the founders it's written in 1812 fax to something he wrote in a political pamphlet in 1778. you see these merged together as if they form a single paragraph. and not even coming you know, john adams. you can see something john adams said in 1812 and something benjamin franklin said in 1750.
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put them together, they form just ask you what a biblical text of a single argument. >> host: is there a single argument towards eletes and how modern eletes have may be distorted kind of what the, you know these hallowed figures said a long time ago? >> guest: there is a lot of anger in their ridings for people like you and me. professors, people who ask you to see to intentionally distort the queen and precious truths of the founders in order to make them seem like less than, and whether it's talking about their own version of sleeves and any time a liberal mentions that, they are going to get a very strong push back or the disagreements between -- we don't want our mythical figures to be disagreeing with each
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other all time. so, yeah. there is a sense that academics -- academics are very delegitimized in this right. just because somebody spent his or her life reading the primary text doesn't give them any special insight. >> host: the primary text could be the bible or the constitution. there is a certain space impulse behind that that we don't need and eletes telling us. so it is somewhat restored. this is one of the things you're but does a wonderful show highlighting is that there isn't a founding. there are many founding seen in fact we might be going profound moments now. the quality is continually changing. so we can't just look at one particular moment to understand how the country works. so, let's say that a liberal publisher or kind of a liberal political activist calls you up and says we read your book and we agree with everything you
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said. we are talking here of this being the province of the right wing. as a kind of the cultural critic and the pole to the cultural critic that you are in this book is that a good thing? >> guest: no, i would be horrified because i think that it is a group of liberals being as distorting and simplistic about the founding fathers as the conservatives currently are being and i think it is free possible. i think you could have -- you could have a movement on the left that was just as bad. they could do just the same sort of things and then you would have to lean on sense -- a buhle nonsense. i would be happy if liberals read this and were offended by some of the things i said. i would hope there is enough in there to offend some liberals and not just conservatives because i think in the current historical moment the far-right discourse is much, much abusive
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to the founding history and i think i can certainly imagine and there have been times in our history when passes for the left has been just as simplistic. so no camano camano. i don't want to say here's a bunch of conservative founders, let me invent some liberal ones and we can just watch them fight like fighting who robots or something. i think that what is amazing is how interesting these men are when you actually read about them and treat them as individuals. they are so much more interesting than the collectivized left. and i think that rather than trying to create a checklist of approved opinions based on things the founders thought, if we look at how they struggled at how they compromised and what they brought to the table when
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they formed this nation, there are a lot of lessons we can learn by looking at them not through our very clear ideological blinders. >> host: i guess if it is humanly possible no matter how we try we see things through our own eyes. is it object of history of the founding fathers possible? >> guest: i don't think it is impossible. i think more objective history as possible. there are so many wonderful books right now. i was in barnes and noble was light coming in from kansas i passed three barns and nobles on my way here today and i was just looking at the really great books that are being written now about the founding generation. i think that some people were doing phenomenally good work and they are in the bookstores and it's available and a lot of people are reading them so i
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think a lot of people are discovering now how fascinating this period can be when we read it with historical that. there is something on the far right a desire to construct this bully pulpit and to use it to shut down political discourse i think that there is a whole lot of great information. the other thing that is more available than it has ever been are the primary sources. you just need a phone to access everything in the founder river road. the complete works of all the founders are now you can download them on to your speed or your ipad, they are free. so the information has never been more available >> host: let me go back to something you mentioned before. what is the difference when it comes to the treatment of the
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founding fathers between french conservatives and when you call mainstream conservatives. you given the book and exit with somebody, not everybody will think of as a mainstream conservative but justice scalia. they treat the founding fathers and bollenbach. >> guest: i think that justice scalia is often presented as an hour journalist because it is an original list. he's not in intentional list. he has said in his 1987 book about the interpretation i thought was a pretty good book and in this book he says you can look for a generalized intent, but you can't try to read the mind of the people that wrote the document, and ultimately their intentions don't matter because they didn't ratify the document. they collectively authored it, and it's undemocratic to try to
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drive their intent unless it is somehow in the text. i think that justice scalia is very conservative, but he said in one of his speeches ayman original list. >> host: and this has been a big change i think between looking at what the founding fathers fought and what a lot of people judges and lawyers and law professors will call original intent to what you call and talk about the original public understanding. everybody around them, not what it madison and jefferson thing. >> guest: i think that is a legitimate internet strategy it's not the only interpret it strategy but it's a jury legitimate. to see what would these words have meant to the people who read the document to the it's a completely illegitimate interpretive strategy to say what did john adams right in his journal in my 1811?
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one of the things i've done my of spoken on this is i put out some quotations by john adams that had been used to interpret the constitution. and then i asked people where were john adams and thomas jefferson when the constitution was written most people don't realize they were not even in the hemisphere. they were both far away. >> host: they couldn't text message their thoughts, so yes the intent that this kind of encoded in the document and that is what justice scalia is saying you don't try to read the minds of people over the years and you don't look at what they've said in a completely different contexts and try to bring that to interpreting. can i give an example one of my favorite examples in the book is about how the supreme secos gets written into the constitution. it's the constitution of the
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united states trumps the state law, it's a supreme law, and this is when madison didn't want that, he wanted a federal veto of the state law and four times during the convention, madison proposed a federal veto that will allow congress to veto any state law and the was a nonstarter for most of the delegates, so luther martin from maryland who became ultimately in and the federalist this began to suppress a clause more like a stance now accept he kept out the state constitution's and he did this as a trick. he was hoping to get everyone written to the constitution to the federal law to come to the state law but not the state constitution's so that he could later argued the state constitution's trump federal law. well, the committee on detail cleaned that up and did put in there that federal law trumpets
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the constitution, but that raises the question of our original intent. who is intent is our original? is it madison who wanted a much stronger federal vito? is it luther martin who is intent was to see the other delegates? was at the other delegates who just wanted madison to shut up and work? exactly who is intent do you put in because nobody can to the constitutional convention thinking i want a supremacy clause in the compromise process and if you look at what people went and did come everyone intended something else but this is what came out. >> host: of course there are similar problems in trying to find the intention of what somebody in north carolina is thinking compared to what somebody was in new york. but subtly these are very different enterprises. >> guest: reading the constitution that comes from my field because that's how we read
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literature. it's a great interest to me but john milton meant when he wrote. it's no interest to me what john adams intended when he didn't write the constitution. i mean, because, when we read a book we were sort of hard wired what to think or what did the author ne, and that isn't a very good way to look at the document that was created by 55 people in an intense and compromised driven negotiating session and that doesn't have a lot of intent and nobody just translated their intent into words in a way that we hope. >> host: thank you for a very wonderful conversation. you have left us with some very interesting lessons and things for us all to talk about. good luck with your book. >> guest: thank you very much. >> host: my pleasure. thank you.